Government

Analysis: Ryan’s Policy Agenda Wins Even If He Loses

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Here comes the pushback, predictable for 24/7 political junkies but not the least bit worrisome in a congressional district that gave Tim Ryan nearly 70% of its votes Nov. 8, and would overwhelmingly elect him leader of the House Democratic Caucus if it could.

As soon as it became known that Ryan, D-13 Ohio, was considering a challenge to Nancy Pelosi, dismissive quotes began to be recycled in the national press from an unidentified “senior aide” who leaked Ryan was delinquent in paying $200,000 of dues he owed to the party’s congressional campaign committee.

Ryan was engaging in a publicity stunt, posturing to raise his profile on cable news shows, Pelosi loyalists suggested. He was being coy when explaining his deliberations about whether he dare take on the woman who was the first female speaker of the House in history. After all, isn’t this the same Tim Ryan who flirted with running for governor and senate?

And when Ryan finally announced Thursday that he would run for minority leader, reporters noted he was an aide to the late Jim Traficant – the flamboyant Youngstown figure whom the Washington press corps cherished and beamed up for laughs, his darker side held in abeyance until the corrupt Mahoning Valley narrative became necessary (which could happen depending on how much Ryan gets under Pelosi’s skin).

Now comes the next round, dismissing Ryan as having absolutely zero experience in corralling House Democrats into legislative consensus and suggesting he’s a policy lightweight — “Congressman Moonbeam,” as The Atlantic magazine dubbed him in a September 2014 article about his then-new book, A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Street, Improve Performance and Recapture the American Spirit.

Ryan leads the House “Quiet Caucus” that holds weekly meditation meetings on Capitol Hill. He advocates for mindfulness in treating mental health problems and employing social emotional learning practices in public schools. His second book, The Real Food Revolution: Healthy Eating, Green Groceries, and the Future of the American Family Farm, looks at obesity, chronic diseases and the Big Food industry. He’s had limited success tapping the federal budget to fund mindfulness studies and practices among military veterans and school children, and helped pass legislation that created a federal labeling standard for genetically modified food.

In challenging Pelosi, he’s casting himself as the Rust Belt Democrat who can bring back the working class voters who abandoned the party in favor of Donald Trump, and rebuild the blue state firewall that collapsed Nov. 8.

“In the days and weeks ahead, I will put forward policies and ideas to help us energize the diverse base of our party, and fight the intolerance and dangers that President-elect Trump represents,” he wrote House Democrats in announcing his challenge to Pelosi. “I expect the entire caucus to hold me accountable. That is why if I am successful I will not serve again without the support of two-thirds of the caucus.”

Hmmm.

Pelosi claimed Wednesday that she has the votes of two-thirds of the Democrats who will vote on leadership positions Nov. 30. Is Ryan’s goal to reduce her margin below that benchmark? His pitch to members, it would seem, is provide Pelosi a smaller margin of victory than she expects, and force her to make changes that newer members want in regard to committee appointments and seniority practices.

That would make Ryan their champion, potentially a leader-in-waiting should the 76-year-old Pelosi decide to retire in 2018. And although Pelosi could punish Ryan by not re-appointing him to the House Appropriations Committee, she likely knows better than to risk the appearance of vindictive pettiness.

Still, Ryan must run the political gauntlet and thread the needle carefully. In his first interview since announcing his candidacy, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow put him through his paces on abortion rights. (Ryan said his reversal of a long-held pro-life stance came through thoughtful discussions about the issue and recognition of the hard decisions women face when he and wife were expecting their son, Brady.)

Maddow noted how Ryan repeatedly says he “loves” Pelosi, prompting him to characterize his challenge as a “fight in the family,” stumble into endorsing Pelosi’s economic policies and get sidetracked from fully discussing his “America 2.0” policy agenda.

With Congress home for the Thanksgiving break, Ryan and the small group of Democrats who forced Pelosi to delay the leadership elections until Nov. 30 will be working the phones in hopes of pulling a stunning rebuke.

Where Ryan wins if he loses to Pelosi (and who’s to say the former quarterback’s Hail Mary pass won’t be caught in this surprising year?) is with the “Democratic Party 2.0” economic agenda he says he will outline. This is his opportunity to take the struggles and resilience of the Mahoning Valley over the last 40 years – and the redevelopment lessons we endured — onto the floor of Congress with detailed policy initiatives that appeal to working class voters as well as to millennials and minorities.

Anything less is a publicity stunt.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.